What is Saw Palmetto?
Traditionally used by the Mayans and the Seminole tribe as a tonic, expectorant, and antiseptic, saw palmetto is a natural treatment for Polycystic Ovarian Syndrome (PCOS) and other health issues. From the plant itself are created herb, extract, and berry products that are actually capable of inhibiting androgens, or male hormones.
The ability of this plant to inhibit male hormones is due to its blocking of 5-alpha reductase, one of the most significant enzymes involved in converting testosterone into dihydrotestosterone, or DHT. DHT is a more powerful androgen than testosterone, and blocking its production can prove beneficial in women trying to keep their androgen levels under control.
What Does This Mean for PCOS?
Because Polycystic Ovarian Syndrome (PCOS) is a condition that results from too high androgens, the ability to limit the amount of male hormones that are created has the potential to reduce the symptoms that women with this disease battle on a daily basis. Though saw palmetto cannot be expected to completely restore normal hormonal levels, it has been used by many women to keep their symptoms at bay—which leads to living a healthier, higher quality life.
How Does Saw Palmetto Work For PCOS?
There has been an anecdotal report of a single incidence of cholestatic hepatitis in a patient using Saw Palmetto, however dosage ranging within normal human dosage (9.14 or 22.86 mg/kg/body weight/day) did not elevate liver enzymes or any other biomarkers of liver toxicity in rats. Another rat study showed no evidence of hepatotoxicity at 150 and 300 mg/kg. A detailed safety assessment on 225 men using 160 mg of Saw Palmetto twice a day found no significant side effects or toxicity compared to placebo. Saw Palmetto may interact with pharmaceuticals via cytochrome p450 effects.
Dosage: 160 to 450 mg twice daily of an extract containing 45-95% fatty acids.
Women with PCOS have higher levels of male hormones, namely testosterone, androstenedione, and DHEA. Excessive testosterone gets converted into DHT by an enzyme known as 5 alpha-reductase (5AR.) Now here’s the bad news – DHT is a more powerful hormone than testosterone, and a bigger problem-creator for women with PCOS.
A study performed at the University of Birmingham, UK found increased 5AR activity in women with PCOS. In the study, scientists compared women with PCOS with healthy women of the same BMI. They found enhanced androgen and increased 5AR activity in women with PCOS, which cannot be explained by obesity alone. These women were converting excess testosterone to DHT more easily than women without PCOS.
A study published in The Journal of Alternative and Complementary Medicine, July 2004 also shows promising results. The study establishes the effectiveness of naturally occurring 5AR inhibitors, derived from the extract of saw palmetto against male pattern baldness for the first time. This positive outcome justifies an expansion to larger trials. While this study was conducted on men, the same anti-androgen activity of Saw Palmetto extract works for women with PCOS too. DHT is responsible for male pattern baldness in not just men, but also in women with thinning hair.
Another French study investigated the inhibition of androgen metabolism and binding using Saw Palmetto extract. The study found that saw palmetto could potentially control 5AR and receptor binding of androgens in humans. Researchers concluded that as an anti-androgenic compound, Saw Palmetto extract could be used as a treatment for excess body hair.
Since Saw Palmetto works as a DHT inhibitor by reducing the production of 5AR, it is a useful herbal remedy for PCOS related male pattern baldness and excess body hair. It appears that an herbal remedy made with Saw Palmetto extract may:
Reduce DHT production
Accelerate DHT breakdown
Inhibit 5AR activity
Prevent DHT from binding with androgen receptor sites
All of these actions of Saw Palmetto extract encourage hair growth on the head, while reducing undesirable facial and body hair in women with PCOS.
Additionally, the anti-inflammatory properties of Saw Palmetto extract can also be helpful to combat bloating, pelvic pain and low-grade systemic inflammation in women with PCOS.
How To Use Saw Palmetto For PCOS: Dosage & Interactions
The recommended dosage for Saw Palmetto extract is a 400mg capsule/day, or 1 tsp. liquid extract/day, post meal. Like most herbal treatments, saw palmetto takes time to show positive results. It can take up to 6 weeks before you see any improvements in your male pattern baldness and excess body hair. Discuss continued usage with your PCOS healthcare provider.
Saw Palmetto works well when combined with Vitex or Chasteberry and Licorice root to treat PCOS symptoms. No significant drug interactions or side effects have been associated with the use of Saw Palmetto extract. However, it’s advisable to take this herbal supplement after food, as it may cause slight gastric distress when taken on an empty stomach.
If you are on allopathic anti-androgen drugs, do not take saw palmetto without discussing with your health practitioner first, as it may have an additive effect. Also, we don’t recommend saw palmetto if you are currently undergoing allopathic fertility treatments.